In 2016 the Tooele County Commissioners, in discussion with the Tooele County Clerk, determined to move the county toward voting all by mail. Currently, 23 out of Utah’s 29 counties vote entirely by mail. With the new voting system, more of the remaining six counties are moving to vote by mail.
The outlying precincts in Tooele County have voted by mail for several election cycles and have done so successfully. These precincts have significantly increased voter turnout verses those areas that had traditional walk-in polling locations. In 2016, we began moving some of the other precincts in that direction, beginning with Stansbury Park. With the school district bond being the only thing on their ballot in 2017, Lincoln and Erda were mailed ballots. That leaves just Grantsville and Tooele City.
Some of the biggest advantages to by mail voting are the convenience for voters, as well as voter turnout being significantly higher. For instance: Comparing 2004 to 2016, ballots voted in Dugway went from 56 percent to 76 percent, Lake Point from 70 percent to 86 percent, Rush Valley from 79 percent to 86 percent, Stockton 78 percent to 88 percent, Vernon from 78 percent to 80 percent and Terra from 58 percent to 88 percent. Currently, 42 percent of voters in Tooele County are already voting by mail.
Cost for the new equipment was estimated at $13 million for the state, compared to the $26 million for new equipment in 2006. The Legislature passed a funding bill for $4.6 million for 2018 with an ongoing $500,000 for 10 years to help with the cost of equipment, ongoing licensing costs, and maintenance fees.
With everyone receiving a ballot in the mail, the number of polling locations will be reduced to four: two in Tooele City, one in Grantsville, and one in Stansbury Park. This will also reduce the number of poll workers needed.
The real advantage of voting by mail came to the front during the last presidential election. Voters who received their ballot in the mail had the time to research constitutional amendments, ballot questions, as well as candidate qualifications before casting their ballots. This year’s General Election ballot could possibly have six state initiatives and three county initiatives. Ballots will be mailed 21 days before the election giving voters time to research these ballot issues.
Security measures for by mail ballots are followed closely. Each signature on a by mail ballot is compared to one of up to five signatures on file for every voter. If the ballot signature matches a signature on file, the ballot and envelope are separated in preparation to be counted. If they do not match, or the voter did not sign the affidavit, the voter is contacted immediately giving them an opportunity to come in and sign the envelope in person.
Once the ballot and envelope have been separated, there is no way to match a voted ballot to a voter. Ballots are tracked electronically and coded to prevent duplication. Voters are welcome to check whether their ballot has been mailed out, received, and whether it was counted by checking the Voter Information and State Tracking Application (VISTA). Voters are always welcome to call the clerk’s office to see if their ballot has been received.
Anyone who is worried about intimidation or coercion when voting a by mail ballot is welcome to come to one of the polling locations on Election Day. They will receive a paper ballot just like they received in the mail, but will be able to vote at the polling location.
This is going to completely change the election process for the Clerk’s Office. We are excited for the opportunity this is going to give voters to have access to ballots sooner, to increase voter participation, and to implement the new system.
Marilyn Gillette is the Tooele County Clerk/Auditor